It's time to start your spring break mix tape. So what if you couldn't get into SXSW? You can still impress your friends with your love of traditional bluegrass, tween pop, tattooed hip-hop/rock, R&B revivalism, and aging Irish punks-turned-activists. You do like that kind of thing, don't you? Read on for your musical cheat sheet.
SKIP: Miranda Cosgrove, "High Maintenance"
"High Maintenance" is a five-song EP meant to keep "iCarly" fans happy until Cosgrove releases a full follow-up to her 2010 "Sparks Fly" debut. The track to play is the title tune, co-written by Weezer wunderkind Rivers Cuomo, who also makes a guest vocal appearance. "High Maintenance" could easily be a Weezer outtake. It's hard to tell who's the smarter one here: Is Cuomo getting himself a bunch of tween fans or is Cosgrove gaining some pop credibility? Either way, it's the only track offering anything remotely new. The rest of "High Maintenance" sets a low bar and is easy to skip. If you've heard one Nick Jr. album, then you really, really, REALLY have heard them all.
PLAY: Travis Barker, "Give the Drummer Some"
Travis Barker definitely deserves some. The Blink-182 drummer has survived a plane crash and the death of his friend DJ AM to rebound with an album deep with grooves. Unfortunately, "Give the Drummer Some" is also short on songs. It's not for lack of talent. Barker recruits Rick Ross, RZA, Cyrus Hill, Raekwon, and nearly every other blunt-smoking rapper with a parental advisory sticker pasted on his mouth. Students of the beat will justifiably marvel at Travis Barker's skills. The dude knows how to keep things popping. Still, maybe one less blunt might have made "Give the Drummer Some" more than just a lesson in keeping time.
PLAY: Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers, "Rare Bird Alert"
Fans of Steve Martin know that he has two other loves aside from comedy: art and twang. Lately, the twang has been giving Martin a third career (he also has a second job as a novelist). Martin's banjo playing won him a 2009 Grammy for his album "The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo." That same year, he was paired with North Carolina bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers for a "Prairie Home Companion" broadcast. The relationship stuck, and now they've committed to wax — or hard drive. "Rare Bird Alert" is no joke. It's a joy to hear a group of great pickers push one another to their musical limits. How fast can fingers fly? Play "Rare Bird Alert" and find out. Oh yeah, the album also answers the question, "What would 'King Tut' sound like if he was born in Appalachia?"
PLAY: Bob Geldof, "How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell"
The album title is a quick shorthand for Bob Geldof's musical career. Once a would-be rock savior, Bob Geldof and his band, the Boomtown Rats, missed the big time and flamed out, leaving the Irish punker with a cult following. He's gained a larger audience of people who know him, love him, and hate him as Sir Bob, mastermind of Live Aid and Live 8 concerts. Now that Africa has been saved, Geldof returns to his day job. "How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell" shows Sir Bob still has the songwriting stuff. It's like the man himself: bleeding heart, brash, a little garrulous, somewhat unfocused, rough-around-the-edges, and obstinate. It's the stuff to make an aging punk proud. Probably won't sell, but we already knew that.
PLAY: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, "Scandalous"
You'll find Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears right next to Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, cranking out their Texas version of old school soul revivalism. Theirs is more hopped-up than Brooklyn's Dap Kings but owes just as much to the forgotten catalog of music that walks with a big 'fro. Leader Joe Lewis looks like Ike Turner's lost brother, and his band sounds like they just came off a European tour backing James Brown. "Scandalous" is as derivative as it gets, but who cares? Who else is making this music with such authenticity? Keep the dream alive, Joe Lewis. Keep the hope alive.